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Whale oil is the oil obtained from the blubber of various species of whales, particularly the three species of Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica, E. glacialis, and E. australis) and the Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysicetus) prior to the modern era, as well as several other species of baleen whale. Train oil (see explanation below) proper is Right Whale oil, but this term has been applied to all blubber oils, and in Germany, to all marine animal oils: fish oils, liver oils, and blubber oils. The most important whale oil was sperm oil, yielded by Sperm Whales.

Whale oil is chemically a liquid wax and not a true oil. It flows readily, is clear, and varies in colour from a bright honey yellow to a dark brown, according to the condition of the blubber from which it has been extracted. Stearin and spermaceti may be separated from whale oil at low temperatures; at under 0°C these constituents may be almost completely crystallized and filtered out. When removed and pressed, this deposit is known as whale tallow, and the oil from which it is removed is known as pressed whale oil; yet is sometimes passed as sperm oil.

Spermaceti is derived from a wax in the Sperm Whale's head. A large whale can hold as much as three tons.

The first principal use of whale oil was as an illuminant in lamps and as candle wax. It was a major food of the aboriginal peoples of the Pacific northwest, such as the Nootka. Whale oil later came to be used in oiling wools for combing and other uses. It was the first of any animal or mineral oil to achieve commercial viability. It was used to make margarine.

However, with the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling, whale oil has all but ceased to be viable, as substitutes have been found for most of its uses, notably jojoba oil.[1]

In literature and memoirs

The pursuit and use of whale oil, along with many other aspects of whaling, are discussed in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In the novel, the preciousness of the substance to contemporary American society is emphasized when the fictional narrator notes that whale oil is "as rare as the milk of queens." John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Noot people on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1802-1805, describes how what he calls train oil was used as a condiment with every dish, even berring

Friedrich Ratzel in The History of Mankind (1896), [2] when discussing food materials in Oceania, quoted James Cook's comment in relation to "the Maoris" saying "No Greenlander was ever so sharp set upon train-oil as our friends here, they greedily swallowed the stinking droppings when we were boiling down the fat of dog-fish."

See also

References

  1. ^ D.J. Undersander, E.A. Oelke, A.R. Kaminski, J.D. Doll, D.H. Putnam, S.M. Combs, and C.V. Hanson (1990). "Jojoba". Alternative Field Crops Manual. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/jojoba.html.  
  2. ^ Ratzel, Friedrich. The History of Mankind. Vol. I, P257 (London: MacMillan, 1896). URL: www.inquirewithin.biz/history/american_pacific/oceania/oceania-food.htm accessed 6 December 2009.
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